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  #1  
Old February 5th, 2008, 10:39 AM
YunusWesley YunusWesley is offline
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Default Origins of peerage titles

This excellent post was made on the Steve Jackson Games forums on the origins of European aristocratic titles. Some GMs may want to add local color to their TU with English neologisms for the noble ranks, or similar explanations for Vilani titles (which I believe are part of the literature...?)


Posted by: Agamegos

Until very late in the Middle Ages (the middle of the 14th Century) there were in England only earls and lords. Dukedoms, marquessates, and viscountcies were introduced in very late mediaeval or post-mediaeval times in imitation of noble titles in France. So we don't need to concern ourselves with their origins and development in England.

The modern noble hierarchy {duke (duc/herzog) marquess (marquis/markgraf), count (comte/landgraf), viscount (vicomte/burggraf), baron (baron/freiherr)} developed in the fragments of the Carolingian Empire: the mediaeval kingdoms of France, Italy, and "The Romans"/"The East Franks" (Germany), and were later copied elsewhere (England, Scotland, Spain, Portugal). Facts on the ground were complicated, but the rough outline is like this.

The title duc is from the Latin dux, meaning "leader", and the German equivalent herzog is from Germanic her ("army") + ziehen "to pull, to drag". The Latin title applied to the military commander of a province of the Roman Empire, and under Charlemagne ducs were Frankish nobles appointed to the military command of provinces. But later the title duc or herzog was applied to the native (or naturalised) leader of a subject ethic group within the Empire. In France there were ducs of Aquitaine, Gascony, the Bretons, and the Normans. In Germany herzogs of the Allemani (Swabians), Bavarians, Burgundians, Saxons, Thuringians, and the people of Lothair. The dukes gained a lot of power and independence as the central authority of the kingdoms declined in the 9th Century. So a duke is essentially the successor of the kings of a people who have been subjugated. And an English earl before the Conquest was the same: The earls of Mercia and Northumbria etc. were subordinate rulers of the old kingdoms of the same names, under the King of the English.

Charlemagne appointed local administrators, who were called comes in Latin documents, comte in French, graf in German, each with delegated authority over a defined territory. Eventually they became hereditary: it used to be said that in Germany it was Conrad I who made them hereditary, but that doesn't stand up to modern scholarship. When William of Normandy conquered England and introduced feudalism, he treated each shire as a county, and gave a measure of authority over it to one of his cronies. These were a lot smaller and more numerous than the original earldoms, but the title "earl" was used. And that is how "earl" (which had been equivalent to "duke" in Anglo-Saxon England) came to be equivalent to "count" ever after.

The counts in charge of vulnerable borderlands had extra military responsibilities, more power, and more independence. In Germany the title was markgraf (from mark (march) = "borderland" and graf = "reeve"), and in French marquis. A lot of dynasties that started out as margraves ended up as kings. There were earldoms (and one bishopric) in England with comparable privileges, but they did not develop a special title.

Carolingian counts appointed either castellans or vice-counts to hold royal castles in their territories, and deputised them with military and judicial authority. In French the title was either ch√Ętellain or vicomte, in German burggraf (from burg = "fortified place" and graf). In most places they became hereditary too, but in the Duchy of Normandy the dukes kept the power to hire and fire vicomtes. So when the Normans conquered England they recognised the sheriffs (from Anglo-Saxon sciren-geref, with geref = "reeve" and cognate with German graf) The sheriffs were really equivalent to the old, appointive, non-hereditary Carolingian comes and grafs, but by the mid 11th Century they looked more like Norman vicomtes, and for a while they were so noted in records. But eventually the English title won out. Sheriffs in England never did become hereditary, and the power of government was gradually pushed back into their hands from those of the hereditary earls.

As for baron, it simply means "The Man", in Gothic. Its a general term for the local boss. French barons weren't originally royal deputies, and originally they had no judicial or even military authority (unless, of course, they were castelland, viscounts, counts, or dukes): they just dominated their areas thought their wealth. "Baron" didn't develop into a title until late, or at least not widely. Early barons had idiosyncratic titles like captal, sieur, dom, seigneur etc. And in fact it remained a categorical term for nobles with armies for a long time: most of the 'barons' who forced King John to issue Magna Carta, or who fought against royal tyranny in the Barons' War were earls. The original English equivalent of 'baron' was hlafeard = "giver of loaves" (ie. the man who fed warriors). It developed into 'lord'.
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Old February 5th, 2008, 11:17 AM
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Interesting post, and as an American, most informative.

I always wondered by the Earl of Huntington had to bow down to the Sherrif of Nottingham! Now I know, that whole Norman/Saxon thing...
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Old February 6th, 2008, 01:14 AM
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Indeed.

The Earl only had his own authority... the Sheriff wielded the authority of the King (by proxy).
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Old February 23rd, 2008, 07:01 PM
Agemegos Agemegos is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Plankowner View Post
Interesting post, and as an American, most informative.

I always wondered by the Earl of Huntington had to bow down to the Sherrif of Nottingham! Now I know, that whole Norman/Saxon thing...
I think you'll find that in the time of King Richard I the earldom of Huntingdon actually belonged either to the king of Scotland or to the younger brother of the king of Scotland.

Last edited by Agemegos; February 24th, 2008 at 10:02 AM..
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Old March 2nd, 2008, 10:20 AM
Angelis_Mortis Angelis_Mortis is offline
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You have it spot on there, an Earl, even though he pretty much ruled his own territory was subborninate to the king in old England. the modern word "Earl" comes from the Anglo-Saxon "eorl", who was a military leader, and local govenor in the kings name, he had a duty to supply men to the king in times of war, and was the only man appart from the king who could call out the Fyrd (local militia). the Old Norse "jarl" meaning free-born warrior or nobleman, is pretty much the same thing.
Of course this changed when William the illigitimate landed on our shores.

Last edited by Angelis_Mortis; March 2nd, 2008 at 10:23 AM..
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Old March 2nd, 2008, 12:22 PM
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In the Vorkosigan books, Count is a corruption of Accountant...
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Old March 2nd, 2008, 04:31 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Angelis_Mortis View Post
Of course this changed when William the illigitimate landed on our shores.
A thousand years later and still holding a grudge?

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Old March 2nd, 2008, 07:47 PM
Angelis_Mortis Angelis_Mortis is offline
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erm........me....grudge....no...of course not
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